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The Flowering Plants of Hawaii (beta)

Part 14 Corynocarpaceae - Crassulaceae - Cucurbitaceae


Kalanchoë pinnata
Kalanchoë pinnata, the air plant.

Corynocarpus laevigatus, the karakanut or New Zealand laurel, is the only member of the family present on the Hawaiian Islands. The family consists of only the one genus, and within that, a mere five species. Karakanut is present on all of the main islands but is apparently very well established on Kaua`i where it was seeded from the air. The natural range of the genus is New Guinea, New Zealand, northeastern Australia, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu. I have not seen this species and can find no easily available image.

Kalanchoë tubiflora
Kalanchoë tubiflora, the chandelier plant.
Kalanchoë tubiflora
Kalanchoë tubiflora, flowers.



Crassulaceae are an extremely widespread family of plants with a high level of variation in the South African flora. Many of the genera are well known as decorative plants popular with collectors. Some of the most common genera are: Adromischus (South African), Aeonium (Canary Islands), Crassula, (sub-cosmopolitan), Dudleya (southwestern North America), Echevaria (many Mexican), Kalanchoë (southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar), Sedum (large northern temperate genus), and Sempervivum (mainly European). The family name has given rise to the term crassulacean acid metabolism, a syndrome of physiological and biochemical adaptations for life in arid conditions.

Three species of Crassulaceae occur on the Hawaiian Islands, all escapes, one in the genus Crassula (C. sieberiana) which I have never seen, and two in the genus Kalanchoë, both of which are fairly common roadside weedy species. The one most likely to be met is Kalanchoë pinnata (see image), known as air plant or life plant in English and `oliwa kü kahakai in Hawaiian. This plant occurs commonly on dry, disturbed sites, and is a common roadside weed on the lee side of the Big Island. The other species is K. tubiflora (see images), which is known as the chandelier plant. This species is a native of Madagascar that has escaped from cultivation. Its stunningly pigmented flowers make this a particularly attractive show plant. The Starrs (HEAR site) list several other decorative Kalanchoë species in the islands have not become naturalized.


Lagenifera siceraria
Lagenifera siceraria A Starr image.

Cucurbitaceae, the cucurbit, melon, or gourd family, are home to many familiar food plants including watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, squash, and cucumber. The family is also an important source of gourds that find use as household utensils in many parts of the world. One of the Polynesian introductions on the Hawaiian Islands was Lagenaria siceraria, the bottle gourd, known locally as ipu , ipu nui, or pöhue (see images). Hawaiians classified gourds according to size, medicinal use (bitter ones), and food (sweet flesh). In addition to use as household containers gourds of various sizes were used in musical performances.

Lagenifera siceraria
Lagenifera siceraria Mature gourd. A Starr image.
Lagenifera siceraria
Lagenifera siceraria Gourd in the NTBG Polynesian section.


Sicyos macrophyllus
Sicyos macrophyllus leaves

Unique to the Hawaiian Islands are 14 species in Sicyos, a genus of 50 species native to Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the southwestern Pacific. [A more recent source (Mabberley, p. 795) gives 24 as the number of endemic species on the Hawaiian Islands.] Typical of the Hawaiian species is S. macrophyllus (see images), which we found growing on Pu`u Huluhulu (Saddle area on the Big Island). This species shows the typical climbing habit of the genus. Sicyos cucumerinus (see image), a rare species known from Maui, Moloka`i, and the Big Island, was photographed in the Kipahulu Valley on Maui by Ken Marr. In Hawaiian this species is known as panunukuahiwi recognizing that this plant occurs in the mountains. The Hawaiian name for the genus is `änunu. The name Sicyos, incidentally, is the Greek word for cucumber.

Sicyos macrophyllus
Sicyos macrophyllus fruit
Sicyos cucumerinus
Sicyos cucumerinus Photo by Ken Marr.


Cucumis dipsaceus
Cucumis dipsaceus

Some cucurbits have escaped from cultivation and appear to be living well enough on their own. An example of a naturalized species is Cucumis dipsaceus (see image), known commonly as the hedgehog or teasel gourd. This plant, which can be found growing in dry, disturbed sites at low elevations, was photographed on the southern coast of Maui next to the ocean-side crushed lava path, about as inhospitable habitat as one can find. Other members of this genus are the familiar cucumber (C. sativus), and melons such as cantaloupe (C. melo).


Momordica charantia var. abbreviata
Momordica charantia var. abbreviata

The balsam pear, Momordica charantia var. abbreviata (see image), has also escaped from cultivation. This is another species that occupies disturbed sites on all of the main islands. The specimen in the photograph was growing over lava rocks on the eastern coast of Kaua`i. Although edible, only small amounts of this form can be tolerated; a larger form, and presumably more easily digested, is cultivated in the islands for use in Chinese and Filipino cooking, according to the Manual.

Literature cited…

Krauss, B. H. 1993. Plants in Hawaiian Culture. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu, HI.

January 25, 2012

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